That one really hurt. Texas out-pitched and out-hit Arizona State tonight, but because of a defensive disaster and a lack of timely hitting they find themselves facing elimination unless they can take two in a row from the Sun Devils tomorrow and Sunday.
The overriding sense you had to get from tonight's performance is that the Longhorns simply weren't sharp. That was best illustrated on the game's crucial play: in the top of the third with one away and men on first and second, Taylor Jungmann induced a made-to-order double play ball on a comebacker. Jungmann wheeled and made a perfect throw above the bag at second, but there was a problem: neither Brandon Loy nor Jordan Etier was fully committed to covering. The error went against Etier, the run scored, and then another unearned one crossed the plate before Jungmann got out of it. Because of a complete failure by the Texas offense to get guys home--including a terrible double play by Paul Montalbano in the bottom of the third while Texas was threatening to tie it at two--that error proved to be the difference as the Longhorns lost 3-1.
In truth, Loy ought to get the lion's share of the blame there; it's basic baseball fundamentals that, as a default rule, the shortstop covers on a comebacker because his body is already moving toward first to make the double play throw. Still, once Etier was there, he should have taken charge and it was his glove that the ball hit on its way to center field, so the error was rightly awarded.
So this is it. Just like last weekend, the Longhorns must win out for the weekend in order to advance. They'll need a great effort from Cole Green tomorrow, but as today's game showed that won't be enough. The problem with a team like Texas that relies entirely on pitching and defense is that a single defensive lapse, like the one tonight, can completely screw up a ballgame. So the fielders will have to help Cole out more than they did Jungmann in his last-ever home start. The other side is equally important, of course--you can't win if you can't score, and despite eight base hits Texas simply could not score tonight. When men get to third base, the hitters absolutely have to find ways to get them those last 90 feet. Otherwise, the Longhorns will watch another team celebrate on their field for the second straight year.
What's the good news? At their best, it sure looked tonight like Texas would be the better team. So if they can be at their best, two in a row is certainly achievable. And as we mentioned before, we love the pitching matchup if Texas can force a game Sunday--we'll take Stafford over either of the Devils' options. We'll find over the next two days whether this will be another magical Texas run or just another disappointment. Is it fair to call a team that has made it this far a disappointment? Yes. Because, at least in baseball, those stratospheric Texas expectations are still justified. We're Texas, dammit. We belong in Omaha.
Time to play like it.